Review: Ayckbourn’s Family Album at New Vic

Photo Credit: Tony Bartholomew

The New Vic, fresh from its 60th anniversary celebrations last weekend plays host to Alan Ayckbourn’s 87th play, starting tonight, a mere few weeks after its premier in Scarborough in September.

One of several plays penned during lockdown, Sir Alan himself saying that this particular one was inspired by a BBC4 programme called ‘A House Through Time’, about a house and the resident’s therein going back hundreds of years. Rather than the span of centuries, Family Album is enclosed to a window within Ayckbourn’s lifetime.

Simultaneously layering the inhabitants of the same living room through three generations, we see RAF veteran John and his wife Peggy on ‘Moving In’ day in February 1952 finally having a place to call their own, their daughter Sandra in July 1992 preparing a ‘Birthday Party’ for her daughter and finally granddaughter Alison in November 2022 finally ‘Moving Out’ of the house.

Not quite the peaceable setting described above, the play puts a lens over the role of women and how that has changed over the relatively short time of 70 years, as well as political and social acceptances.

John and Peggy, frustratedly discussing how best to bring up a son and gifted daughter, Sandra. Peggy wanting something different for her daughter pleading in vein, with John to give both their children an equal chance, who is well set in his misogynistic ways. Sandra then carrying the baggage of her upbringing in 1992 with a husband who is absent, trying to pick up the pieces on daughter Alison’s 10th birthday, when all she wants is her father, with Sandra desperately trying to convince her husband over the phone to attend the gathering. Finally Alison who has almost become numb to her past and is preparing to finally exit the house she has forcibly inherited with her partner, Jess.

Antony Eden and Georgia Burnell are fantastic as John and Peggy and really capture the essence of attitudes at the time and the stringent roles they each had. Some fabulous character acting really got the audience gritting their teeth at John and feeling Peggy’s frustrations.

Frances Marshall is brilliantly cast as Sandra, appearing overtly brash and lashing out, but inside, extremely fragile and in some ways, the most affected out of the entire situation, by her upbringing and where she has been slotted in life. Trying to balance being a lone-parent, you feel her complete isolation.

Elizabeth Boag and Tanya-Loretta Dee play Alison and her partner Jess respectively. They are a joy to watch and they bring through that struggle which Alison has had to carry with her, but also a sense that ‘Moving Out’ is metaphorically breaking the toxic cycle and is actually ‘Moving On’. It has a beautifully poignant moment when Alison is finally opening up to Jess about her upbringing, that each item of inherited items of antique furniture from 1952 are removed piece by piece, almost in an act of exorcising the demons of all three generations.

A special shout out to Jude Deeno and David Lomond as the removal men who were very funny and added a comedic element which broke up the tense atmosphere.

The staging is very cleverly worked and often simultaneous action will be taking place in multiple era’s. The wonderfully timed movement as well as the accompanying lighting schema make this seamless.

A stellar cast deliver a brilliantly written and poignant play to the backdrop of intelligent set and lighting. It’s a must see.

Tickets are available for forthcoming performances and available on the New Vic website here. The performance runs until 22nd October with matinees on Thursday and Saturday.